ENTEBBE, Uganda, May 28 (Reuters) - Bloody livestock raids in east Africa will continue unless governments address the causes of conflict between pastoral communities across the vast semi-desert region, a senior diplomat said on Monday.
"Taking their guns away will not solve the problem. They can get more," said Abdelrahim Khalil, director of the conflict prevention arm of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which groups seven east African countries.
He was speaking to Reuters at the start of a three-day meeting on disarming pastoralists. Delegates from Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and other countries racked by violence between cattle-keepers armed with AK47s are attending the meeting at a Ugandan lakeside resort.
Khalil said greater efforts needed to be made to develop infrastructure and provide basic services. Most conflicts are over scarce resources like water and pasture.
Efforts to tackle gun crime in lawless border areas have so far borne little fruit, aid agencies say.
"There is recognition that national policies have failed," added Khalil, who chaired the conference. "We have not been able to contain conflicts in the region."
Pastoralists in remote areas need to feel they are protected by state laws and police, he said, or else they would re-arm.
"You need a government presence. People need to feel they are part of the state. And the cultures which encourage armed conflict need to be dealt with using better education."
Uganda, which suffers banditry and unrest in its northeastern Karamoja region, has come under fire for what the United Nations says are excessive tactics to disarm warriors.
More than 50 cattle rustlers, four soldiers and scores of civilians were killed in February in a sharp escalation of a conflict between the military and warriors.
But Ugandan Defence Minister of State Ruth Nankabirwa denied accusations of heavy-handedness. She said many Karamojong guns had been handed in voluntarily, not seized.
"Sensitisation has been successful ... Everybody in Karamoja knows a gun is illegal ... Many have been handed in voluntarily," she told Reuters.
Adan Abdullahi Bare, a Kenyan cattle-keeper who has lost friends and family in shoot-outs, said drilling more boreholes would in many cases be enough to stop pastoralists fighting.
"If you solved the water problem, that would go a long way," he said.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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